At the Capitol: New Minnesota Senate Leadership and Special Session
On September 15, 2021 by Matt Steele
This week, lawmakers have yet to call a special session to allocate the $250 million set aside for Hero Pay bonuses, and new Senate majority and minority leaders have been elected. Here is what you need to know about what is happening at the Capitol this week:
Senate Leadership Changes
Over the last week, two Senate caucuses elected new minority and majority leaders. Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) stepped down from his leadership position to focus on his run for governor, and Senate Republicans elected Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) as their new leader. In addition, Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) resigned her leadership role of the Senate DFL caucus to spend more time with her family, and Sen. Melisa Lopez Franzen (DFL-Edina) was elected as the minority leader. Both leaders have expressed support for long-term care in their earliest days at the helm of their respective caucuses, and we look forward to connecting with them soon to share and advocate for LeadingAge Minnesota’s legislative priorities.
Special Session Update
Since the original deadline has passed when lawmakers were expected to return for a special session to pass Hero Pay bonuses, it is no longer clear when the legislature will allocate the money. The working group still has not released any recommendations. While they agree on some details surrounding the fund's distribution, the group continues to work toward consensus about which essential workers would receive these bonus payments, as $250 million will not allow for the inclusion of all essential workers to receive a meaningful payment. The media has reported that the group is nearing an agreement, but lawmakers have not publicly released any information.
An additional barrier to calling a special session has been the proposed confirmation vote for Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. In Minnesota, the Senate approves by a majority vote the department commissioners appointed by the Governor. Senate Republicans have since the outset of the pandemic subtly and more directly expressed a desire to vote against the confirmation of Jan Malcolm's commissioner appointment. More recently, newly elected Senate Majority Leader Miller told reporters that a confirmation vote for Commissioner Malcolm is a possibility he is considering in the special session. As a result, Governor Walz and Senate Minority Leader Lopez Franzen have expressed less willingness to support a special session.
Hero Pay Bonus Status
At this point, Hero Pay bonuses are in a legislative holding pattern. Until Governor Walz feels comfortable that Commissioner Malcolm will not be voted out of office by the Senate, it is unlikely that he will call a special session. While this provides extra time for the working group to iron out final details on the allocation of Hero Pay bonus funds, it makes the factors affecting the initiation of a special session more tenuous and uncertain.
In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for meaningful bonuses for caregivers and provide updates as the new legislative leadership navigates within their new roles.